1 of 1 thought this review was well written
Armored Saint are the purveyors of some of the finest heavy metal ever recorded even if they've been vastly overlooked by both popular media and even the metal community itself. Those needing proof of such a lofty statement need look no further than the Saint's 1991 swan song, Symbol Of Salvation.
The Saint started out in the early '80s in the hot L.A. metal scene. They quickly made a name for themselves as one of L.A.'s premier live acts. In 1984 they signed with Chysalis records and released three classic, though under appreciated, heavy metal albums. In 1990 the band was writing material for their fourth album when it was learned that founding member Dave Prichard had leukemia. The diagnosis came as a shock to the band which was made even worse with his rapid deterioration and death several months later.
In 1991 the band entered the studio to finish the album they had started with Dave. The band recruited guitarist Jeff Duncan and convinced founding member Phil Sandoval to return to the fold to help with the guitar duties. Most of the songs were co-written with Prichard and his influence and inspiration can be felt on all of them. The end result was Symbol Of Salvation, a fitting tribute to a wonderful musician.
Salvation is filled from top to bottom with buzz-saw riffs, frenetic guitar solos and the near perfect vocals of John Bush. Opening with Reign Of Fire, the signs of a metal masterpiece are quickly apparent. Fire may not be the best song on this release, but it serves as a great introduction to the album, almost daring the listener to try and keep up. The mile-a-minute pace never slows, instead propelling the listener onward and flinging him into the next track. 4 minutes of music rarely passes so quickly.
Dropping Like Flies slows the pace down a little bit but decides to go even heavier. The main riffs work remarkably well. John Bush's vocal range is shown off admirably here as he takes it from low octave barking to high-pitched screams.
The next track, Last Train Home, could be the best song Armored Saint ever recorded. It's amazing that new member Jeff Duncan shares a co-writing credit on this song as it perfectly nails everything that Armored Saint was so good at and even expands their range quite a bit. After the brief intro Train opens up into a sparse sonic landscape, punctuated only by drums and the quiet musings of an electric guitar. This continues throughout the first two verses but is quickly kicked aside by the flat out guitar assault that comes in during the chorus. Train is instantly singable and the kind of song that just catches everybody that hears it. Filled with strong pop sensibilities but without an ounce of commercialism, Last Train Home is a true gem.
The real hidden talent in Armored Saint is that of drummer Gonzo. More than almost any other band I can think of, the rhythm section helps define the music. Tribal Dance gives Gonzo a chance to break out a little more and actually lay the musical foundation for a song. His drums create a wholly unique and memorable sound, which fits perfectly within this tale of drug trafficking. Outside of a Max Cavalera band I haven't heard any metal songs with a South American influence, but the band pulls it off perfectly.
The Truth Always Hurts allows Armored Saint to sit back a little and create a slow metal groove. The result is a fun song, which builds upon itself until it finally reaches a full bore crescendo. It's an interesting experiment but not one that will instantly stick in your mind.
Half Drawn Bridge is a short (1:30) guitar instrumental that serves as a set up for the hauntingly beautiful Another Day. John Bush is forced to carry the first half of this song almost by himself as the other instruments are recorded very low in the mix. John can sing really well but I think he sounds better with a full band behind him. Fortunately, three minutes into the song the rest of the band joins in and the melancholy tone that was set early on becomes an aggressive attack. This is another experimental metal song but one which works very well.
The centerpiece of this album is the title track which is a true thrash classic. From the grinding metal riffing to John's howling screams this is about as metal as it gets my friends. During the chorus of "Who's the symbol of Salvation / What's the symbol of Salvation" it's impossible not to scream along. Salvation is a fist pumping, head banging metal anthem. The album could have ended here and it would have been great.
But fortunately it doesn't. Hanging Judge is a thick and heavy slice of venomous metal. Warzone continues with the hard hitting trend. I often have the tendency to overlook bassists but Joey Vera is one bass player you can't do that with. I think he's easily one of the best bass guitarists in heavy music today and his work on these songs is just wonderful, perfectly accentuating both the lead guitar and the drums to create an impressive whole.
Burning Question is more of the same but features some really impressive lead guitar work from Phil Sandoval. This isn't the deepest song on the album but the intensity evident in every musician makes this an impressive track and not filler at all.
I think Tainted Past is the only track on the album to feature actual guitar work from Dave Prichard. The song is epic in scope and subject matter. The production on this track (as most of the others) is spot on really giving the song a polished feel but without detracting from the overall sound. Moving from full on thrash metal to slower instrumental bridges and then back again, the song shows off the full range of talent in the band.
The cynical view that has been taken /
Is blowing my mind /
I can't seem to piece it all together /
I guess it takes time to unwind /
To let the dust settle /
And let cooler heads prevail
The album closes with the balls to the wall attack of Spineless. Featuring more anger and bile than is normally found on a whole album this track is just brutal. The lyrics may not be the deepest but in terms of sheer aggression it's hard to top it. The song barrels ahead at full speed, never slowing down until the final rousing "duh-dum" closes out the track and the album.
Many people thought that Symbol Of Salvation would be the last note from Armored Saint. Indeed it was as the band called it quits and split up soon after it's release. Personally I don't think their hearts were really in it after the death of their friend and the cool reception the album had received. John Bush was asked to replace Joey Belladonna in Anthrax. Joey Vera left and joined the progressive metal band Fates Warning. Fortunately for us fans, in 1999 the guys decided to reunite to release another Saint record as a side project. The result was 2000's Revelation disc, an album which hearkened back to the sound of old. It just goes to show you that great metal never dies, it just goes on hiatus every now and then.But even after saying all of this I know this is not an effort for anyone but loyal fans. The music scene has changed and if you are not creating a type of alt-metal like Creed or showy-techno-bloody stuff like Marilyn Manson or Nine Inch Nails---you are not going to be noticed very much at all. Music today is too much about visual performance and shock and not enough about the lyrical and sonic commitment and creativity necessary to make songs that stay with us for years to come. Live and enjoy this solid album.
Armored Saint is:
John Bush - Vocals
Joey Vera - Bass
Gonzo - Percussion, Drums
Phil Sandoval - Guitar
Jeff Duncan - Guitar